Tips for Raising Readers

The Joy of Reading Together, At Any Age

Grandma reading

When is the last time you read to your 20 year old?

“Wait a second,” I’m sure you’re thinking, “Is that a typo? She must have meant 2, not 20.”

Reading With My Mom

When I was 20 years old, in college, and studying elementary education, I took a children’s literature class. This meant that much of my homework was reading children’s books–certainly the best homework you could ever have. During the course, my class read the novel Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, a Newbery Honor book. If you haven’t read it, you should check it out. I loved it.

I don’t remember the details of why I suddenly needed to read this novel overnight (though I’m sure it had something to do with procrastination:), but I do remember spending the day on the couch in my mother’s living room reading. And reading and reading and reading. At some point, my mom stopped in to check on me, plopping down on the couch beside me. I caught her up on the story, then started reading aloud to her. After a while, when my jaw began hurting from reading aloud so long, she took a turn reading to me. We laughed together during the story, and I’m sure we cried together as well.

Mom and daughter

I know my mom had better things to do that day, but oh how I will always cherish this memory of her taking the time to read with me. We had so much to talk about during the story, and especially after it. Reading Princess Academy together has been a fun shared experience that lasted for the days, weeks, months, and years that have followed. What else would have given us this adventure and closeness?

The Great Gift of Reading Aloud

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article by Meghan Cox Gurdon entitled “The Great Gift of Reading Aloud.” It was this article, in fact, that reminded me of the experience of reading Princess Academy together with my mom. In her article, Gurdon says, “It is more vital than ever to read aloud often, and at length, for as long as children will stay to listen.”

That can be tricky, right? Sometimes my littlest one runs off while we are reading. But even though he isn’t sitting still, I am sure he is still hearing the words and beginning to understand the story. In her article, Gurdon also shares a quote from her role model, and film producer, Lisa Wolfinger, who said, “Creating that [written story] world in your head is a muscle that needs to be exercised. Kids now are being spoon-fed the visual storytelling, so there’s no reason for them to close their eyes and imagine a world, imagine what these people would look like, the clothes and smells and landscape.” As we read aloud to our children, they are exercising this muscle and building their imaginations.

Mom reading

What I most enjoyed from Gurdon’s article, though, is what I experienced reading aloud with my mom. As Gurdon explains, “The evident pleasure of hearing a story read aloud is not confined to the young. Even teenagers will listen if the writing is good. So it seems a shame that, in many households, parents read to children only until the children are old enough to read by themselves.”

“Both grown-ups and children are missing something when there is no reading aloud.”

I have experienced this same joy reading aloud with my husband. We started reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett while I was pregnant with our youngest.  Since the time my husband brought the book home, we have found that we really enjoy reading together and have enjoyed sharing other written adventures as well, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. We’ll often choose reading aloud together on a Friday night over other options like watching a movie because we’ve found that reading aloud together provides a much more meaningful, interactive, and memorable experience.

As Gurdon explains, “Both grown-ups and children are missing something when there is no reading aloud. The children’s loss is hateful to contemplate: the fabulous illustrations they will not see, the esoteric vocabulary they may never hear, the thrilling epics they will never embark upon.” I loved being read to as a child, even as a 20 year old child. I am sure we can’t ever get too old to enjoy these moments. So let’s embark on some adventures with our children, however old they may be.

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